We will stand before the judgement seat of God and history
Trial Speech of Ken Saro-Wiwa (1995) by Ken Saro-Wiwa
Ken Saro-Wiwa was brutally killed by General Sani Abacha for his protest against the devastation of the Ogoni people’s land by multinational oil corporations.
Saro-Wiwa was arrested in May, 1994 in Nigeria on what many believe to have been spurious charges.
On November 10, 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his comrades (the “Ogoni Nine”) were executed by hanging after being found guilty of murder by a specially arranged military tribunal.
Independent UK reported that it took five attempts to hang Ken Saro-Wiwa before the Nigerian writer spoke his last words and his body went limp. “Lord take my soul, but the struggle continues,” were the anti-government activist’s final words before he died on Friday morning, blindfolded and dangling from a rope.
In the speech made by Ken Saro-Wiwa, Nigerian political activist, given before but around the time of 10 November 1995, during the author’s trial for incitement to murder, he said:
“We all stand on trial, my lord, for by our actions we have denigrated our country and jeopardized the future of our children. As we subscribe to the sub-normal and accept double standards, as we lie and cheat openly, as we protect injustice and oppression, we empty our classrooms, denigrate our hospitals, fill our stomachs with hunger and elect to make ourselves the slaves of those who ascribe to higher standards, pursue the truth, and honor justice, freedom, and hard work. I predict that the scene here will be played and replayed by generations yet unborn.”
Saro Wiwa’s speech was about the struggle for a homeland in the Niger Delta for the Ogoni people, but every Nigerian could easily identity his prophesy as having been fulfilled and is fulfilling on Nigeria till date.
The text of the speech reprinted below appears under the title “Ken Saro-Wiwa’s final address to the military-appointed tribunal” in Earth Island Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 1, page 25 (Winter 1995) looks like a curse on Nigeria.
We all stand before history. I am a man of peace, of ideas. Appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people who live on a richly endowed land, distressed by their political marginalization and economic strangulation, angered by the devastation of their land, their ultimate heritage, anxious to preserve their right to life and to a decent living, and determined to usher to this country as a whole a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group and gives us all a valid claim to human civilization, I have devoted my intellectual and material resources, my very life, to a cause in which I have total belief and from which I cannot be blackmailed or intimidated. I have no doubt at all about the ultimate success of my cause, no matter the trials and tribulations which I and those who believe with me may encounter on our journey. Nor imprisonment nor death can stop our ultimate victory.
I repeat that we all stand before history. I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief. The Company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come and the lessons learnt here may prove useful to it for there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war that the Company has waged in the Delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the Company’s dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.
On trial also is the Nigerian nation, its present rulers and those who assist them. Any nation which can do to the weak and disadvantaged what the Nigerian nation has done to the Ogoni, loses a claim to independence and to freedom from outside influence. I am not one of those who shy away from protesting injustice and oppression, arguing that they are expected in a military regime. The military do not act alone. They are supported by a gaggle of politicians, lawyers, academics and businessmen, all of them hiding under the claim that they are only doing their duty, men and women too afraid to wash their pants of urine.
We all stand on trial, my lord, for by our actions we have denigrated our country and jeopardized the future of our children. As we subscribe to the sub-normal and accept double standards, as we lie and cheat openly, as we protect injustice and oppression, we empty our classrooms, denigrate our hospitals, fill our stomachs with hunger and elect to make ourselves the slaves of those who ascribe to higher standards, pursue the truth, and honor justice, freedom, and hard work. I predict that the scene here will be played and replayed by generations yet unborn.
Some have already cast themselves in the role of villains, some are tragic victims, some still have a chance to redeem themselves. The choice is for each individual.
I predict that the denouement of the riddle of the Niger delta will soon come. The agenda is being set at this trial. Whether the peaceful ways I have favored will prevail depends on what the oppressor decides, what signals it sends out to the waiting public.
In my innocence of the false charges I face here, in my utter conviction, I call upon the Ogoni people, the peoples of the Niger delta, and the oppressed ethnic minorities of Nigeria to stand up now and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights. History is on their side. God is on their side. For the Holy Quran says in Sura 42, verse 41: “All those that fight when oppressed incur no guilt, but Allah shall punish the oppressor.”
Come the day.